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Motorola Locks Down Chips

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
9/29/2003

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) has become the latest vendor to integrate security into its microprocessors, continuing the trend of putting encryption acceleration on-chip.

The company announced eight new varieties of its PowerQuicc processors today, grouped under the family names MPC885 and MPC8272. Four of the eight include security. Specifically, Motorola is enhancing some of its PowerQuicc chips with the encryption functions found in its S1 line of security co-processors, which the company introduced in 2000. (see Motorola Processors Integrate Security).

The idea is to speed up security processing. Encryption involves doing math with unusually large numbers, a task that can bog down a general-purpose processor. So, several companies, including Cavium Networks Inc., Corrent Corp., and Hifn Inc. (Nasdaq: HIFN), have developed specialty hardware for the task. These chips are often called co-processors, as they're meant to sit alongside a microprocessor.

Naturally, processor companies believe they can further speed things up -- and save OEMs a bit of money -- by merging the co-processors into their own chips. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Integrated Device Technology Inc. (IDT) (Nasdaq: IDTI), and PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS) are adding security to their microprocessors; and Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) have done the same with some of their network processors (see Vendors Add Security to MIPS Chips and Intel Moves on Security).

PowerQuicc tends toward a lower-end market than those processors, however. The product line, consisting of a few dozen chips, spans applications from access modems to edge-network equipment.

In addition to the usual speed and cost arguments, Motorola is hoping to gain an edge from its greater experience with ATM and Ethernet. "We can attack kind of the next-generation security processors," says Matthew Short, head of security applications for Motorola's networking and computing systems group.

The integration trend doesn't necessarily mean the end of co-processors. Motorola and Broadcom plan to continue selling their co-processors. And Short notes that chips such as Corrent's will continue to serve high-end applications, where integration becomes too cumbersome.

"Corrent's kind of a different beast. It's pretty high-end. We even recommend them to go with C-Port," he says, referring to Motorola's line of network processors.

The new PowerQuicc chips are due to begin sampling next month, with volume production slated for the second quarter of 2004.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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